While much of the buzz surrounding the emergence of driverless vehicles concerns their potential impacts upon the lives of daily commuters, the new technology also promises to radical enhance infrastructure and planning decisions by harvesting vast amounts of information on urban transit patterns.
According to Robert Le Busque of Verizon Enterprise Solutions, the launch of the autonomous cars will have profound implications for urban planning far beyond the more obvious, headline-grabbing impacts that will affect daily commuting and transportation usage.
"A lot of the dialogue right now is focused on the autonomy and safety features of a connected car, as well as elements of improved consumer service, which are of course really important aspects of what the technology will bring," said Le Busque.
"But I think some of the more seismic changes that we're going to see will relate to traffic congestion and urban environments - which is particularly important for Australia where close to 90 per cent of the population resides in cities or developed areas.
"There are a lot of questions right now around what automated cars will actually look and feel like, but the reality is that when this technology becomes widespread in the Australian marketplace, we’ll see profound changes not just to the consumer experience but also to infrastructure integration, particularly in urban centres."
While Le Busque errs on the side of caution when it comes to predicting what kind of implications automated vehicles might have for modern infrastructure, he notes that the very nature of the driverless vehicle will make it a veritable wellspring of big data on transit patterns, which will in turn profoundly inform planning and infrastructure policy in future.
"I don’t think anyone can really be sure of exactly what the changes will be, particularly in the Australian environment, but the one thing that we would observe is that when cars, trucks and public transport vehicles become connected, they'll start producing data and intelligence about what they're doing and how they're interacting with the environment around them," he said.
"A connected vehicle will produce somewhere in the vicinity of an exobyte of data per year – or the equivalent of 4 trillion books worth of data and information. That’s a vast amount of intelligence from just a single car, so the multipliers of this are significant.
"I think from a policy and regulatory perspective, that’s another aspect of the connected machine, and the connected car in particular, that is extremely important for the conversation in Australia."
While new sensor and networking technology is readily capable of amassing vast amounts of intelligence on urban environments, the perennial challenge remains understanding how to marshal all this big data and put it at the effective disposal of policy makers.
"When we talk about connected cars and the Internet of Things (IoT) in general, there are definitely two key areas of endeavour," said Le Busque. "The first is the technology itself - the sensors, how they relay, the network they run on and so forth. The other is the actual analytics...how you take and handle all the information.
"Within an exobyte of data from a single car, probably five per cent will be valuable and meaningful when correlating that data with other congestion and traffic related information. A different five per cent might be important when looking at fuel consumption, while a different five per cent might be important for something else."
Given the importance of filtering and harnessing the troves of intelligence that automated vehicles and other IoT technologies can produce, adept analysis of big data will be a key area of competition and differentiation in future.
"The ability to have the data engines that can analyse and correlate and make sense of it is a really important aspect of the equation as well," said Le Busque. "It’s a critical area of focus for Verizon as well as others who are exploring and offering services in this industry."